I’m writing today with news about a scandalous failure to set priorities in America’s immigration policy, and with a call to action to set matters right.
I just got through reading a new report, Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery, that I can only call shocking. In it, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) lays bare the ugly and foolish truth about our tax dollars and immigration enforcement.
The report, released yesterday, recounts that in fiscal year 2012, the U.S. Government spent 24% more on federal immigration enforcement than collective spending on all other federal law enforcement agencies – the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
I believe that the $18 billion spent on enforcement reflects the wrong priority for this country, which was built by immigrants and whose future will be stronger for the participation of immigrants in our communities and our economy. Humane and comprehensive immigration reform is a moral and economic imperative in 2013.
I’m one of many people who are hoping that this reform will emerge from the 113th Congress, whose members took their oath of office and began a session on January 3. Though the need for federal reform is well-known, recently released statistics from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for fiscal year 2012 underline the urgency of the issue. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed or deported 409,894 people from the country in one year, including hundreds of thousands of parents of U.S. citizen children and others with deep ties to our communities.
While these statistics make clear the scope of the daily consequences of our broken immigration system, the MPI report is a good explanation of the backstory of how our nation got to this point. Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery looks at the explosive growth of immigration enforcement since 1986.
The report highlights how three landmark moments contributed significantly to the creation of this “formidable machinery:”
- The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) began the era of enforcement-focused immigration policy
- Two pieces of 1996 legislation, particularly the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, significantly toughened traditional immigration enforcement by broadening the categories of non-citizens subject to mandatory detention and deportation
- The terrorist attacks of September 11 created DHS and initiated improved data-sharing practices that are vital to immigration enforcement processes today
“[P]olitical stalemate [around comprehensive reform] has persisted for at least a decade. Meanwhile, the facts on the ground have steadily and dramatically changed,” according to the report’s authors, Doris Meissner, Donald M. Kerwin, Muzaffar Chishti, and Claire Bergeron.
“Now, more than…26 years after the IRCA…enforcement first has de facto become the nation’s singular [immigration] policy response,” the authors conclude.
When reading the report, I think of the hundreds of thousands of families separated from their loved ones in the last year alone. I think of the thousands of migrants detained each day who would benefit from the community-based alternatives to detention that LIRS outlines in our 2011 report, Unlocking Liberty.
It’s critical that the 113th Congress finally succeed in creating an immigration process that unites families. 2013 is the year for our lawmakers to act on the moral and economic imperative of comprehensive immigration reform. Join me in raising your voice for fair and humane reform through the LIRS Action Center now!